On Friday, April 7 Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared that our historic drought was over thanks to the immense amount of rainfall we received this winter. With our snowpack reservoir reaching 178% and the City of Los Angeles reaching 141% of historical averages as of this month.
While these numbers bode well for the water levels in our reservoirs and make for a healthy Sierra snowpack – I am concerned that a new confidence in our supply will lead us right back to the old habits that exacerbated the severity of the last drought.
Prior to the drought, we Californians had taken our water for granted. In a heavily populated state, where many of our urban centers were built in environments not naturally rich with local potable water, and while also being one of the world’s leading agricultural producers, it is understandable why we have such an astronomical need for water – but this should also emphasize the preciousness of our supply.
Prior to the drought we treated water as one of our more expendable resources. We took long showers, kept big lawns, had low requirements for industrial and commercial use, and did not prioritize the repair of leaking infrastructure.
While challenging and posing a definite threat to our environment and ourselves, Californians did as we always do: we buckled down and got into action. We faced the adversity of the drought with austerity and discipline – many made the switch to drought-tolerant landscaping, we cut down on our consumer use, and our industries and businesses became more careful. We began to invest in infrastructure and re-draw our plans towards conservation.
Overall, our state has reduced consumption by 22.5% since our mandatory conservation took effect in June 2015, even after the rules were relaxed. Californians should be proud; again we have exemplified a people who can grow from our challenges. Now that the drought has been declared over by the governor, it is time we put ourselves to the test. Unlike so many other resource shortages, such as gas or power shortages, where use returns to pre-shortage levels relatively quickly, can we maintain and improve upon our current levels of conservation?
I have proposed several water conservation bills that would build on our newly-learned lessons and implement recommendations Gov. Brown has proposed in his recent report, Make Water Conservation a California Way of Life: AB 1669 will help set longterm water use efficiency standards to mitigate waste from outdoor irrigation, commercial, industrial, institutional water use and leakage; AB 1668 would require agencies to asses and disclose the risks of water supply shortages from droughts and what their supply plans would be in response; AB 1667 improves and updates agricultural water management practices, planning, and reporting; AB 1000 would begin the process of establishing new efficiency standards for new construction utilizing the lessons from the drought and new technological capabilities.
We cannot control nature. While we may now have a brief respite, it is likely that we will continue to see problems of water supply in the far and immediate future. With the effects of climate change in full-force and rainfall becoming increasingly less predictable, we must now use this time to prepare for future problems.
What are your thoughts? Please reach out to my district office and share what you learned through the drought, any ideas you have to help improve our plans to meet further conservation goals, and what you think we can do to best prepare for future drought.